Dynamics of electoral victories

JAI MRUG

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THE call for early elections is based on the premise that a ‘feel good’ factor would lead to a hands down vote for Vajpayee. The 1999 elections were fought in the backdrop of the Kargil war; these elections are sought to be fought in the realm of a suggested boom in the economy. However, many election results that suggest an apparent sweep can be deconstructed to near arithmetical alignments of the vote bases of the aligning parties. In a fragmented polity these alignments represent the coming together of newfound political identities to best leverage the marginal vote that they carry. Thus an arithmetical deconstruction and reconstruction of electoral data provides rich insight into possibilities for the future. Such hypotheses have gained increasing importance given the emergence of smaller parties in the recent polls. The impact of such smaller parties is now analysed in the context of the ensuing Lok Sabha polls.

Indian states can be neatly dissected into two types – those states where the polity is polarized largely between two mainstream parties (such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi) and states where the polity is polarised largely between two stable fronts (Kerala). States such as Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab and Haryana are also akin to two party systems where the non-Congress parties have complete seat adjustments or full-fledged alliances. However, states that do not have stable fronts (Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Maharashtra) or a where bipolarity is absent (Uttar Pradesh), provide ample space for arithmetical play and alliance politics. So far these states have provided the NDA with more than a third of its MPs and it is here that the real battle will be fought. Together these states sent 124 NDA members to Parliament last time.

It should be noted that the alliance partners being sought by the Congress primarily have their influence in these states: the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the RJD in Bihar and Jharkhand, and the NCP in Maharashtra. The BJP is trying to negotiate Kalyan Singh’s re-entry into the party in Uttar Pradesh, while it is critically dependent on its allies in the other states: the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, the JD(U) in Bihar, and the Dravidian allies in Tamil Nadu. In Jharkhand the party is trying to woo the JMM into its fold. If the Congress succeeds in sewing up an alliance with the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the NCP in Maharashtra, it will have placed itself well at the end of the first round of the battle.

 

 

Tamil Nadu is perhaps one state where the NDA could suffer a severe blow, simply because of the lack of allies. Ever since the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, this state has shown a tendency to vote in favour of arithmetically loaded fronts. In 1998, the Jayalalitha-BJP front had PMK and MDMK, in addition to the local influence of leaders such as Vazhapadi K. Ramamurthy and P.R. Kumaramangalam. This front scored a surprising victory against the DMK-TMC-CPI alliance. That was the beginning of arithmetical elections in the state. The ADMK front scored 47% votes against the DMK led front’s 42%. In 1999, Jaya led a weaker front with just the Congress and the Left, while the rest of her allies (minus Subramaniam Swamy) migrated lock, stock and barrel to the DMK front leaving the TMC in the lurch. This time the DMK front polled a little over 47%, while the ADMK-Congress-Left alliance polled a little below 42%. This was an election that the nation called the Kargil election. But the Tamil Nadu election results were nothing but cold arithmetic.

This trend was reinforced in the 2001 state elections, when Jayalalitha established an eleven percentage point lead over the DMK by lining up almost all parties that mattered in the state (barring of course the DMK and the MDMK) in her favour. The ADMK led front consisting of the Congress, Left, PMK and the TMC (now merged with the Congress) polled close to 50% of the votes. As of now the DMK has a similar line up. With the PMK choosing to make common cause with the DMK it shall be disaster for the BJP-ADMK front.

The absence of the PMK in the DMK led front would have been a natural invitation to the Dalit parties, PT (Pudhiya Tamizhagam) and DPI (Dalit Panthers of India) to ally with the DMK front or offer support to them. These parties have always been in conflict with the PMK. In fact, supporters of the DPI have always been in direct conflict with the supporters of the PMK in northern Tamil Nadu. In the south the PT has been critical of the Thevars, who are alleged sympathizers of the ADMK. Together these parties command at least three per cent support statewide. Whichever way these parties go, the DMK led front now has a near assured support of 50% or more.

 

 

The chances of the BJP led alliance do not therefore appear as bright in Tamil Nadu. Government employees, hit hard by the crackdown on their strike, may get back at the ADMK, further reducing the chances of a BJP-ADMK victory. What effect the Vajpayee ‘feel good’ factor will have in Tamil Nadu therefore remains to be seen. The DMK led front could comfortably end up with more than 30 of the states 39 seats.

In Maharashtra, a prospective NCP-Congress alliance with a little help from the Dalit parties – the RPI (Republican Party of India), the BBM (Bharatiya Bahujan Mahasangh), and the Samajwadi Party could severely limit the chances of the Sena-BJP alliance which won 28 out of the 48 seats in the state in 1999. A grand alliance in 1998 had reduced the Sena-BJP to a mere 10 seats, despite a nation-wide wave in favour of Vajpayee. In 1998, the Sena-BJP polled an all time high 43% of the votes, but near total unity by the opposition led to a landslide in favour of the Congress. The Index of Opposition Unity (IOU) in Maharashtra then stood at 0.88.

 

 

In 1999, the BJP-Sena polled 38% of the votes but won 28 seats, facing an all time low IOU of 0.53. The low IOU was largely due to the formation of the NCP. Taking 1999 as the base, a mere unity of the Congress and the NCP could well take the IOU above 0.8, making life difficult for the Sena-BJP. There is no independent estimate of the anti-incumbency factor against the state government that could positively impact the chances of the Sena-BJP. However, an alliance of the Congress, NCP and smaller parties certainly dims the prospects of the NDA in Maharashtra.

Bihar and Jharkhand returned a large number of NDA MPs (41) to the Lok Sabha. In 1999, the NDA polled an all-time high of 45.48% in Bihar with a perfect seat adjustment. The BJP contested 29 seats, leaving 23 for the JD(U) and two for the Bihar People’s Party led by Anand Mohan. The front led by the RJD consisted of the Indian National Congress, CPM and MCO (Marxist Co-ordination). They together polled 38.08% of the votes. As far as the NDA is concerned a crucial difference between the 1998 Lok Sabha polls when it won 30 seats and the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, when it won 41 seats was the Ram Vilas Paswan-Sharad Yadav factor.

In 1998, the two contested as JD candidates supported by the Samata Party, an indirect alliance of sorts. But that was not a full-fledged alliance. The NDA then polled 40% of the votes. In 1999, the two formally joined the NDA, largely enhancing the vote share (45%) as well as the seat share of the NDA. The seat most symbolic of the NDA sweep was Madhepura, where Laloo Prasad Yadav lost to Sharad Yadav. Ever since the Gujarat riots, Paswan has parted ways with the NDA and is now being wooed by both the fronts. His movements will certainly impact the chances of the NDA to say the least.

 

 

Moreover, the anti-NDA camp would require to accommodate a number of smaller parties to decisively beat the NDA in Bihar. The CPI has strong pockets of influence in the state but has been opposed to the Laloo regime on the ground. The CPI (ML) is no less influential and so are the splinter factions of the JMM. However, these need to be brought together and welded into a force with the same precision as the NDA. In undivided Bihar the CPI, CPI (ML), BSP and the JMM together polled 8.25% of the vote. These parties are of extreme importance if the Congress is to give a serious fight to the NDA. Nevertheless, given the quarrels within the Janata parivar, it is unlikely that the NDA would romp home to a stupendous victory such as last time.

Uttar Pradesh holds the key to 80 Lok Sabha MPs. The BJP was badly mauled in the last Lok Sabha elections in UP with the disappointed urban voters and differences between Kalyan Singh and Vajpayee. In undivided Uttar Pradesh, the party polled a mere 27.64% of votes in 1999, a far cry from the 36.5% the party polled in 1998. Its seat share halved from 57 to 29. The SP too plummeted from 28.7% to 24% but increased its seat tally from 20 to 26. The INC made huge gains raising its vote share from 6% to 14.72% and winning 10 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

In a multipolar state like UP, the outcome is largely dependent upon the concentration of party support in a particular region of the state and the differential lead it has over its nearest rival. >From 1991 to 1998, it was the BJP which was largely the beneficiary of the first past the post system. However, in 1999 it was the SP and the BSP who reaped large benefits. The SP gained with a falling vote share and the BSP’s tally rose from 4 to 14 with a mere gain of two per cent points in its vote share. The party increased its vote share from 20% to 22%. The BJP fared poorly inspite of a low Index of Opposition Unity (IOU) – 0.33.

 

 

In the strange terrain that is Uttar Pradesh, the biggest loser due to a potential BSP-Congress alliance could be the SP. The BSP-Congress alliance could wean away a large number of minority voters and other anti-NDA forces from the SP. Taking 1999 as the base, a BSP-Congress alliance could increase the Index of Opposition Unity (calculated against the BJP) to 0.51. The BSP could particularly benefit from the alliance with the Congress in western UP, eastern UP and the areas bordering Nepal. It is in these regions that the Congress-BSP synergy has the potential to swing many minority voters from the SP and consolidate their gains. While the BJP may gain from the potential re-entry of Kalyan Singh, some of its gains could be offset due to the Congress-BSP alliance. Smaller parties like the Apna Dal could add a couple of seats to any party that allies with them. Though not placed poorly, the BJP is not poised for an exactly sterling performance in UP. Gains for them could be moderate.

 

 

In addition to the above states, the BJP has to make do with anti-incumbency sentiments against its allies, primarily in Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, and a continually declining base in Karnataka. With the AGP refusing to ally with the BJP in Assam, catching up with Congress may not be as easy. If the TRS (Telangana Rakshana Samiti) chooses to ally with the Congress, it could be a big setback to the NDA in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh. The NDA has to contend with this in addition to the fact that the TDP has been ruling Andhra Pradesh for the past nine years. Moreover, the Left may also align with the Congress in Andhra Pradesh.

Western India is perhaps the only region where the BJP can assume its chances to be safe. The rest of the nation is indeed a battleground. And it is in this battleground that the parties like DMK, MDMK, PMK, NCP, Lok Jan Shakti (Ram Vilas Paswan), TRS and BSP may throw all NDA’s calculations to the wind.

In the event of the results throwing up a Parliament where the NDA does not have a significant lead over the halfway mark or possibly falls short, it is these very parties which will show a proclivity to move closer to the NDA. Barring the TRS and the NCP, all others have at some point in time allied with the BJP. The NCP too has not been totally averse to an understanding with the BJP. Since there is now a blanket ban on defections, the attempts would be to move parties or blocs of parties as a whole in favour or against the NDA. So do not be surprised if we have a G5 or a G7 in Parliament holding confabulation with both the BJP and the Congress. In the absence of a decisive wave in favour of the NDA, new formations at the Centre are likely.

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